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Mario Ciabarra started the iPhone application store Rock Your Phone last year Photo by THE GAZETTE FILE

A Monument-based developer of iPhone applications got a shot in the arm from the Library of Congress this week.

Mario Ciabarra’s app store, Rock Your Phone (rockyourphone.com), was the poster child for the Library of Congress ruling Monday that Apple could not dictate what programs users run on their phones. Rock Your Phone sells unlicensed apps that require users to “jailbreak” their phones — skirting the limitations and protections Apple puts on the phones.

Since founding the company last year, Rock Your Phone has sold about $2 million worth of apps, Ciabarra said. That’s a tiny fraction of Apple’s sales, but given the thousands of apps available on Apple’s official App Store, getting people to look beyond the approved programs is a challenge, especially when Apple says doing so violates the iPhone’s warranty and could make it unstable.

With the Library of Congress ruling, Ciabarra said, “I think people are going to be more apt to give it a shot.”

The Library of Congress was charged by Congress with reviewing exemptions to the digital copyright law every three years.

Ciabarra was quoted in stories on the ruling by the Associated Press and the New York Times.

He is in Washington, D.C., this week, making the case to Congress that Apple’s virtual monopoly on the apps, or applications, that run on the popular iPhones hurt consumers and are anti-competitive.

“If you compare it to a PC, imagine buying a desktop computer and everything you install has to be approved by Microsoft,” Ciabarra said.

Ciabarra said he consulted with a lawyer before launching Rock Your Phone and was confident that his app store didn’t break the law. Apple, however, always claimed that unlicensed apps were a copyright infringement, which, although the tech giant never pursued it, raised the specter of costly lawsuits to decide the issue.

“What we didn’t want is to litigate this in court,” Ciabarra said.Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

When he launched Rock Your Phone, Ciabarra avoided using the term “jailbreak,” believing that such a harsh term would scare away customers. Eventually, however, he said he came around and embraced “jailbreak.” It turned out there was nothing to be scared of.

“We took our user base from 80,000 to 3 million in a matter of months by embracing the word ‘jailbreak,’” Ciabarra said.

Rock Your Phone sells programs that allow customers to use their phones as wireless hotspots — a feature that costs extra from AT&T — or browse calender and mail programs from the phone’s default lock screen.

Although the Library of Congress ruling removes the threat of legal action against unlicensed app vendors, it doesn’t do a thing to end the tug of war between Apple and app programmers. With every software update, Apple takes new measures to disable unlicensed apps, duplicate their functions or make it harder for programmers to break the iPhone’s operating system. The Federal Communications Commission is investigating Apple’s App Store policies.—Call the writer at 636-0275

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